Monthly Archives: August 2014

Reflections on “To Walk a Pagan Path: Practical Spirituality for Every Day,” Alaric Albertsson

PaganPathThere are so many books on Paganism out there that it can be quite difficult for a beginner like me to choose which ones to read. But this one caught my attention a while back, and I’m so glad I bought it. This is one of my favourite books on Paganism that I’ve read so far, for a number of reasons:

1. This is a book about general Paganism, rather than Wicca, which is not always easy to find. In fact, Wicca is downplayed considerably here. The author follows an Anglo-Saxon path, which is fairly unusual in itself and makes for both an interesting a refreshing take on Paganism. What’s more, he talks about plenty of other forms of Paganism and most of what he writes about here could be applied to any Pagan path (including Wicca).

2. Relating to the point above, this book is far more about connecting to the deities and living a lifestyle that is compatible with the beliefs of Paganism than it is about magic and spells  – something that appealed to me greatly because magic is not a large part of my own practice. There is an emphasis on living a lifestyle that is eco-friendly; in fact, if you took out all the spiritual references, you would still have yourself quite a nice little handbook on green living.

3. The writing style is engaging, gentle and very easy. As with a lot of Pagan books out there that are written from a personal perspective, there is an undercurrent of humour that makes it warm and readable.

4. Many of the rituals and crafts suggested are pretty simple, and there’s so many ideas in here that, whether it be candle making or cooking or bee-keeping, there’s something here for everyone. In fact, this book did inspire me to go out and try a lot of the things suggested, such as growing a small herb garden and making more of an effort to get crafty and re-use household waste where possible.

5. Ultimately, this is a very down-to-earth book and I think all the suggestions in it would benefit most people out there, Pagan or not. But even so, spirituality permeates every practical tip suggested by  Albertsson – there’s even a ritual in there for presenting a pet as a “familiar” to one’s deity – making sure the gods are still given the biggest focus.

There’s only a few points I thought might bother a few readers:

1. This is a book about practical living, and as such Albertsson goes into quite a lot of depth on some of the topics. For example, on his section of keeping dogs, he details where best to acquire a dog, how to raise it as a puppy, what breeds to consider, what to feed it etc. etc. This is great if you are actually considering getting a dog, but probably not so helpful if the idea isn’t in your mind at all. I felt that perhaps it might have been better for Albertsson to cover more topics (suggestions for Pagans in the workplace, for example?) but in less depth, with a greater emphasis on the spiritual aspects – he could have suggested some good books or organisations to turn to for anyone who wanted more detailed information on the topic. There are plenty of sources on all these topics that cover the practical basics, after all. Nevertheless, I have to admit I found the topic on bee-keeping, even though I have no intention of keeping bees, really fascinating!

2. I get the feeling Albertsson isn’t keen on eclecticism – he makes lots of reference to clear-cut Pagan “types” (Anglo-Saxon, Roman, Kemetic etc.) and makes it clear that he doesn’t think one should try to connect with many deities, but stick to just a few. I’m not really sure if this is an accurate reflection on most Pagans – the majority of Pagans I’ve met tend towards eclecticism and worshipping lots of deities.

But overall, this is a fantastic book and a good place for beginners to start (I’d imagine there’s quite a bit in there for veterans too) – especially for those who are not so interested in magic or want to investigate paths other than Wicca.

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The Surprising Link between Hello Kitty and Inari

HelloKitty

“Hello kitty character portrait” by Official Sanrio website http://www.hellokitty.ne.jp/english/kt_family.html. Licensed under Fair use of copyrighted material in the context of Hello Kitty via Wikipedia

It’s currently all over the internet – the shock revelation that Hello Kitty, despite all the evidence to the contrary, is not a cat.

The surprise discovery was made by anthropologist Christine R. Yano from University of Hawaii, who was “corrected” by Sanrio who told her that Hello Kitty was not a cat – because she’s never depicted on all fours, for one thing, and in fact she even has a pet cat (Charmmy Kitty). You can read the full story here.

What interests me greatly about this is that Shinto and Buddhist priests also insist that Inari Okami is not a fox – despite the fact that the fox is the symbol most commonly associated with Inari, and that plenty of laymen see Inari as a fox.

Why do their respective authorities insist that Hello Kitty and Inari are not cats and foxes? It seems to me that in the minds of the authorities on these two “personalities” (one being the creator, the other being the priests), the “personality” they represent somehow transcends the status of being a normal animal. In the case of Hello Kitty, she is not considered an animal because she is also a little girl with human qualities. In the case of Inari, it’s because the fox is considered to be merely the symbol of Inari – perhaps in a similar way that Charmmy Kitty is definitely a cat, and is the pet of Hello Kitty. Perhaps in both cases, a mere animal is too “lowly” for these characters. This maybe understandable for Inari, who is clearly worshipped as a divinity in Japan, but one cannot dismiss Hello Kitty’s importance in Japanese society. She is everywhere in Japan – her image is probably more ubiquitous than Inari’s foxes ever have been. And many have suggested that in this way, Hello Kitty has become something of an idol.

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A white fox, a symbol of Inari

It’s also worth considering that in traditional Japanese mythology, neither cats nor foxes are considered 100% positive. Foxes are seen as tricksters and sometimes downright dangerous, while cats were considered unlucky in Buddhism because they were said not to have cried when Buddha died. Both cats and foxes are attributed with shape-shifting powers, and both are thought to transform into a kind of supernatural being once they reach a certain age, often indicated by gaining more tails. Anthropologist Karen Smyers (author of The Fox and The Jewel) has also pointed out that foxes are quite cat-like in both appearance and behaviour, more closely resembling cats than canines, in fact. Even Inari’s stylised fox statues look somewhat feline, with their high pointed ears, raised paws and upright tails. It could be this somewhat eerie image of the fox and the cat that makes both Sanrio and the priesthood alike distance Hello Kitty and Inari from their totem animals.

It may also be significant that both Inari and Hello Kitty are pure white – a very auspicious colour in Japan, generally lucky when it occurs in an animal, which is frequently used to represent the sacred. Perhaps another indicator that Hello Kitty has been assigned a little more “divinity” than we might at first think?

It seems to be yet another link between Gods and Mascots, and an interesting one at that.

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Reflections on “Gods Behaving Badly,” Marie Phillips

godsbehavingMy first review of a novel! I actually read this one years ago but seeing as they’ve now made a movie adaptation, I thought now would be a good time to review it, from a Pagan perspective.

The story is about the Greek gods all living together in a dilapidated flat in London. Their powers are mysteriously dwindling, forcing them to live rather mundane mortal lives – Apollo is a TV psychic, Artemis is a professional dog-walker, Dionysus is a DJ, and Aphrodite is a phone sex worker. In between all this, they get up to all the usual family business – squabbling, backstabbing and lots and lots of somewhat incestuous sex (really, that’s how the book opens, and it’s pretty funny).Then one day their lives collide with those of two highly unremarkable humans….and comedy and adventure ensues.

So how will Pagans react to seeing their beloved deities star in what’s essentially a rom-con novel at heart? To start with, they may find the very simplistic caricatures of the gods downright annoying. Gone, for example, is the complex mixture of tenderness and passion from Apollo and Aphrodite – they are merely portrayed as shallow, air-headed sex maniacs. Artemis fares a little better, but even she lacked the mystery and wildness that I attribute with her mythic counterpart. And portraying Athena, who is as much a goddess of war and glory as she is a goddess of wisdom, as a timid and awkward nerd is just plain wrong! Pagans may also find it quite upsetting to see the gods they respect and worship reduced to the weak, foolish buffoons that appear in this novel (the depiction of Zeus, when we finally meet him, is particularly disturbing). I think one has to bear in mind that Phillips was never writing for a Pagan audience, or even for an audience that is a little more educated than usual in Greek mythology – she’s playing on all our most basic associations with the Gods that most people half-remember from school or from depictions in movies and TV shows.

For the purposes of a rom-com, I at least can forgive this. The book is funny, after all – there is something inherently amusing about imagining the supernatural beings coping with modern London life. There’s some great little touches too – I found it particularly amusing that Eros has converted to Christianity, much to his mother Aphrodite’s annoyance!

And what’s more, it gets better and better and more and more fantastical further in. Surprisingly, the two human characters – Neil and Alice – are at least, if not more, interesting than the immortals. I would go as far as to say that Alice is perhaps one of the most unusual and yet realistic heroines I’ve encountered in a novel – she’s highly intelligent and analytical, yet with a crippling shyness and humility that holds her back, but this doesn’t really get her down. She’s introverted but not angsty – she enjoys her modest life. I found that I liked her a lot and really felt for her when she was going through some very, very tough times at the hands of the gods.

This book also has some unexpectedly strong fantasy elements. One of the highlights for me being the depiction of the Underworld, which is not only very creative but also allows for some strong emotion; like its ancient Greek counterpart, Phillips’ Underworld isn’t inherently a blissful Heaven-like place and there’s some moments of sadness and bleakness to be had here. I also found the depiction of the river Styx both imaginative and appealing – I would have loved to have seen a little more of this element, in fact. In addition to the Underworld, I also liked the book’s depiction of Hera – she was perhaps the closest to what I imagine her mythological counterpart to be out of all the Gods, mixed with a feeling of both great dignity and great dread.

There’s a feel-good ending to the story –  everything works out for everyone and you do get a nice warm feeling inside. No, it’s absolutely not a deep book and Pagans will find their eyes rolling (if not their stomachs churning) at what the author has done to their gods, but if you can look past this, it’s quite an enjoyable, sweet and funny read. Good for when you’re looking for something light after all those dusty, heavy tomes on arcane rites.

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“Goth Zodiac” Art Series: Virgo

zodiac-virgo

I’m now half way through my Goth Zodiac series with my latest instalment – Virgo. Seeing as Virgos are supposed to be quiet, thoughtful, analytical people, I thought that a a more casual Goth style with elements of “geek” culture with a bit of cyber and metal thrown in would probably be a appropriate. In my mind, Virgo Goths care less about the fashion, and more about the music and literature of the Goth scene.

You can view the whole series and my other art here.

 

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New Moss Garden

moss4

On Saturday my husband and I went to Camer Park. It’s a really beautiful country park just a few minutes’ walk from Sole Street station, and it’s one of our favourite places to go to for picnics.

After our picnic, I decided to go and try and find some wild flowers for my Mum (she loves flowers). Although I didn’t find any flowers, I did find some absolutely gorgeous moss samples growing on bark and dead wood, so I decided to collect some to add to my collection of indoor moss gardens. I collected some dropped-off bark that was covered in very bright green moss, and a small piece of dead wood  with a little moss that reminded me of a rugged mountain with a trees growing on it.

When I am in the woods like this, with the trees towering in arches over me and with beautiful plants all around, I feel like I am in a grand cathedral. And as a Pagan, I feel like I ought to be like a monk in such places- respectful and reverent of the nature around me. So I took the opportunity to do a little bit of litter-picking as well; I couldn’t believe just how much was around this beautiful park. And so much of it was within a few metres of a rubbish bin!

When we got home, I didn’t have any spare containers so I added the new moss to one of the old gardens. The wood “mountains” and bark really give the garden a “contoured” feeling, I think. I also added a little Buddha statue that I’d bought in a charity shop the other day. I suppose a Pagan deity may have been more appropriate, but small, affordable Pagan statues (Hellenic, Celtic or otherwise) are comparatively hard to find. I am pretty interested in Buddhism anyway; I would say most Shintoists are as the two overlap a great deal in Japan. What’s more, I think the Buddha statue and the shape of the “mountains” really gives the moss garden quite an Asian feeling – which is appropriate considering Japan is renowned for cultivating moss!

I hope I can find some little Pagan statues so I can make a “moss shrine” soon…

moss5

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BABYMETAL and Inari

babymetal If you’re a fan of heavy metal and/or J-Rock, you will have probably heard of BABYMETAL by now. Mixing heavy metal riffs with kawaii babydoll fashions and J-pop-style dance rhythms, they’ve taken the world by storm thanks to social media and are set to play at the O2 in London this September.

They’ve raised a few eyebrows and made a few enemies along the way – some take exception to the “manufactured” nature of their music, which goes against the true spirit of heavy metal (like so many Japanese bands, they were created by a talent agency and are heavily managed), while others take exception to their rather sexualised image in spite of their young age (several members were pre-teens when the band got together). And then naturally, many aren’t keen on the music itself.

But aside from all these criticisms, what interests me deeply about BABYMETAL is their abundant use of fox imagery. They wear white fox masks, sing about foxes, and they’ve even come up with their own altered form of the “devil horns” hand gesture which looks like a fox. They say that they do this in order to thank the “Fox God” (Inari?) for their success.

I find it fascinating that such a young band has adopted such classical Japanese imagery, and that it’s the fox in particular that they’ve chosen – a symbol of mischief, illusion, transformation, mysticism and deviance. Considering the stir that BABYMETAL have caused in the metal world, such a slippery, ambiguous symbol representing the crossing of two worlds does seem appropriate.

I strongly recommend you check out their music video MEGITSUNE; fox imagery abounds, as does other very traditional Japanese imagery (there’s even a warped tribute to the old Japanese song “Sakura” in there). Look out for the rows of torii gates too! (MEGITSUNE is incidentally the Japanese word for “vixen.”)

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The foxes are BACK!

fox

“European red fox” by Marie Hale – https://www.flickr.com/photos/15016964@N02/5662097343. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:European_red_fox.jpg#mediaviewer/File:European_red_fox.jpg

I posted a few days ago that I haven’t seen our local foxes around for a while, ever since the neighbours did some clearing out in their big garden. I’ve missed them and I’ve been worried for them, hoping that they would come back. I even made an offering and a prayer to Inari-sama last night and asked her to protect the foxes and keep them safe, wherever they are. While making my prayers, I also held the wish to see the foxes again in my heart.

And then, just a few hours later, I heard one of the foxes yapping outside.

I am SO happy that they are back! Thank you, Inari-sama, for keeping them safe.

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Ancient Wisdom: Hans In Luck

TheFool

“The Fool,” a Tarot card that may ironically represent wisdom

Pagans may not have any text like the Bible from which to learn lessons about life, but many are drawn to myths, legends and folk tales, which often tend to contain a lot of wisdom and truth.

One of my favourite of Grimm’s Fairy Tales is “Hans In Luck.” Why? You can read more at Patheos here!

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Paganism: A religion for creatives?

 apollo

Apollo, the god of art, poetry and music.  “Apolocitaredo8” by Ricardo André Frantz (User:Tetraktys) – taken by Ricardo André Frantz. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Apolocitaredo8.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Apolocitaredo8.jpg

I attended a lecture and book reading by Nina Lyon, author of the new book Uprooted: On the Trail of the Green Man (reviewed here). During the lecture, she described talking about her eclectic, liberal form of nature-based spirituality to a friend, who said, “Oh, it’s like a sort of punk religion!” [Read more]

 

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Worrying times for the local foxes

foxI haven’t heard or seen our local foxes for a whole week now. This is a bit worrying, as we usually hear them almost every night, playing right outside our house. What’s even more worrying is that the big house opposite ours, which has a very large garden and is probably where the foxes spend most of their time, has just had a big clear-out, and they may have decided to clear out the garden too. I am concerned that this has disturbed the foxes – they might not even come back.

I would be pretty upset if these foxes do not return. We’ve come to see them as our neighbours, and more than that, they have a spiritual significance for me. I felt inspired to set up the little Inari shrine because of the local foxes, and I’ve come to see their presence as a good luck omen. Whenever I see them or hear them, I feel that somehow we are being watched over and protected.

I will keep on watching, listening out, and hoping that they return.

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